Grassroots Activism: CHRAPA Promotes Access to Justice by empowering Traditional authorities and councilors in under-served communities

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Cross Section of Participants at Ndop workshop

The Center for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy (CHRAPA) recently organized a three day seminar workshop with members of traditional councils from the four Fondoms of Ndop at the Ndop Council. The training which brought together 30 traditional council members and was organized within the framework of promoting and protecting human rights in rural communities had as objective to promote access to justice through the respect of the rule of law.

There is no gainsaying that Cameroon is amongst the countries which has signed and ratified many international conventions to promote and protect human rights. Irrespective of these laws, many people in Cameroon especially vulnerable and marginalized groups like women, children, indigenous people and the disable, suffer gross human rights violations. Their right to fully enjoy the basic principles of Human Rights – equality, non discrimination and participation is constantly threatened. This usually happens because there is no respect for the rule of law by the authorities that be and secondly because of gross ignorance amongst these group of people. Most often they do not know that they have rights and that these rights have to be respected and also because they do not know what to do when their rights are violated.

Traditional Rulers and Councilors

Furthermore, although Cameroon has a barrage of laws protecting its citizens, these laws are not easily accessible or available to be exploited by the man on the streets. Thus usually these categories of people are taken advantage of their ignorance either by the forces of law and order or by others who are wealthy and more influential than them.

Given that an average of all the cases received by CHRAPA revolved around land matters, assault, trafficking and other cultural practices that are abusive especially to women and the girl child, we strongly believe that using the traditional justice system which is very affordable and accessible to most vulnerable people remains a way out.  Indigenous customary law or native law is very much in use in Cameroon. Customary law covers areas including marriage, farming, forestry, hunting, general land use, and inheritance and probate issues. These laws have their roots in various tribal customs that pass from one generation to another. They are unwritten but are known and respected. New laws are added by pronouncements of fons (chiefs) in conjunction with the traditional councils. The fon or chief is the traditional custodian of legislative power.

Thus CHRAPA through this training, was out to strengthen the capacities of traditional council members in four fondoms (Bemessing, Bamuka, Banbalang and Bamali) in  Ndop Ngoketujia in the Northwest region of Cameroon on International/statutory laws that promote and protect human rights and on techniques of conflict resolution. The training also enable the traditional leaders to understand that, national laws were supreme and that obnoxious cultural practices that infringes on the rights of persons ought to be revise.

In the course of the training, traditional council members were made to understand that they constituted a viable option to the state justice system which is not only expensive but also not easily accessible nor affordable to the common man. According to the executive director of CHRAPA, he challenged them that instead of community members always rushing to the courts to resolve cases, or simply staying quite and suffering in pain, the traditional council members should use the knowledge gained to develop judgements that are free and fair. Through such judgements, they will gain the confidence of the people and will help their communities to settle conflicts amicably.

CHRAPA believes that the worst out of court settlement is always better than the best court judgement because out of court settlements in most cases give room for the parties concern to talk out and negotiate for peace.  Secondly, the process of litigation in Cameroon is too expensive and thus instead of abandoning a case completely as a result of cost, the traditional council members are equipped to help the local people have access to justice  by providing room for an impartial audience to listen to a case that could have gone unheard.

Thought-showering session, learning by doing

 The traditional council members through their representatives lauded CHRAPA for the wonderful initiative and confessed that this was the first time they were having a training of such magnitude. They however acknowledge the fact that they were ignorant of the law which was a major handicap for them to do their work. Thus through such seminars, they were optimistic that their knowledge of the law has increased and they will be able to do their work well. The first deputy mayor for Ndop council adding his voice to his fellow countrymen said, the training has come at the right time and that it will also greatly reduce the number of people who suffer injustice in the villages. The Executive Director of CHRAPA Mr. Chongsi Ayeah Joseph, thank the participants for giving up other important things to be part of the training. He challenged the participants to use the knowledge gained to better the lot of their community members given that where there is respect for human rights through the rule of law, there can be no sustainable development. He also thanked the National Endowment for Democracy a U.S based Charity for supporting CHRAPA’s access to justice programme. To enable the participants have the knowledge they need to carryout this daunting task, resource persons including, Justice Mbaki Vivian President of the High Court Mezam, Barrister Chitoh Michael of Covenant Chambers and Mr. Chongsi Joseph Ayeah Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy (CHRAPA). The seminar was facilitated by Jane Frances Mufua

Participant recapping day’s activities

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